Under the Sea, Darling it’s Better, Down where it’s Wetter…
Huron Country Playhouse was packed with little girls wearing fish tails and glitter, and little boys all dressed up for the opening of The Little Mermaid. This favourite Disney classic will sell out, and I predict Grandmas and Moms will be scrambling for tickets. To ensure that I fully understand the impact of a Disney production, I recruited 10-year-old Lillian to accompany me. Even at her tender age, Lillian is a seasoned theatre-goer with expert appreciation for musicals. I could not have found a more thoughtful, well spoken and polite companion to help me with this review.
When Hans Christian Andersen first penned The Little Mermaid in 1837, little did he know that over 150 years later, a huge corporation would turn it into an animated movie. The 1989 film is probably one of Disney’s best creations. It features a strong female lead character and relies on an assortment of inspiration for the musical numbers, from heartwarming ballads to lively calypso. So it should be no surprise, based on this long history, that the same story should evolve into a live stage musical.
Lillian was familiar with the story and the movie, and noted that the musical had some slightly different plot twists. In this version, Ariel is the youngest mermaid of King Triton’s seven beautiful daughters. She is the best singer in the family, but spends all her time daydreaming about the land and the people above the ocean. She sees Prince Eric on a ship and immediately falls in love. King Triton orders Sebastian, the Jamaican crab, to keep an eye on her. But Aerial sneaks away with her little friend Flounder, the fish, to the surface of the ocean to talk to Scuttle, the Seagull. Her evil aunt, Ursula, the sea-witch octopus, along with her two minions, Flotsam and Jetsam, the electric eels, spy on Ariel. Ursula offers Arial legs in exchange for her beautiful voice. So Ariel gets to meet the handsome prince, but can’t talk to him, which presents a myriad of problems both above and below the sea. Of course, it’s a love story, which eventually gets all sorted out.
Lillian and I agreed that Ursula, played perfectly by Kelly Holiff, was probably the best character in the show. She is so delightfully evil and Holiff sings the part so well, you just can’t take your eyes off her. Anthony MacPherson and Brent Thiessen, her two evil eels, are equally spellbinding.
Our favourite, and I’m sure everyone else’s favourite, is of course, Ariel. Jessica Gallant is delightful as the little mermaid, her eyes sparkling as much as her gown. Gallant has the bell-like, clear voice needed for the beautiful songs such as “Part of Your World”.
Lillian says that the always popular Keith Savage is the funniest character in the show, as Scuttle, the seagull who has language issues. Savage has great fun with Scuttle’s mashing of words, especially in “Positoovity”, a song expounding the importance of a positive attitude. Another of Lillian’s favourites is young Oliver Neudorf, who plays Flounder, the fish, zipping around on a scooter.
Al Braatz is a charming Prince Eric, and Aadin Church is an excellent Sebastian, the Jamaican crab. Aaron Walpole is hilarious as Chef Louis, wielding a dangerous cleaver, and also as the elderly teacher, trying to keep the attention of a school of fish. Lillian was thrilled to pose for photos with each of them during the meet-and-greet after the opening.
Kevin Aichele makes a formidable King Triton, with his imposing looks and deep voice, while J. Sean Elliott is a suitably worried Grimsby, Prince Eric’s guardian.
The ensemble members are excellent: the bevy of beautiful sisters takes on other roles including cooks and maids, and the men are everything from seahorses to seaweed. The flock of tap dancing seagulls are amazing. Similarly, the children’s chorus (two groups of 14 talented youngsters who alternate performances) are enchanting. From turtles, whose backs double as drums, to lily pads and other sea creatures, the costumes are eye catching.
I had the advantage of having seen Drayton Entertainment’s 2014 production of The Little Mermaid at their Cambridge venue. Other than two actors (Keith Savage in the same role, and Amanda Struthmann), this production has a new cast, in new costumes. Both shows were equally good, but in this newer production, the costumes have more sparkles! Jayme Armstrong played Ariel in the 2014 version. This time around, she is the director, brilliantly bringing all the characters to life. Credit also goes to Robin Calvert for the energetic choreography, with a shout out to dance captain Christine Watson. Kudos to Steve Thomas and the band for the lively music: we were excited from the very first notes of the orchestra’s overture.
If you love a big musical with lots of colour and excellent singing and dancing, then this is the show for you. If you have a companion between the ages of 4 and 12 who likes princess stories, then this is a must-see. Lillian and I give it four thumbs up.
The Little Mermaid will be on stage at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend August 12 to September 2. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-238-6000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check www.huroncountryplayhouse.com
Photo: Left: Oliver Neudorf, Jessica Gallant, and Keith Savage as Flounder, Ariel, and Scuttle. Right: Anthony MacPherson, Kelly Holiff and Brent Thiessen As Flotsam, Ursula, and Jetsam. Photos by Hilary Gauld Camilleri.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Book by Doug Wright
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Glenn Slater
Directed by Jayme Armstrong
Choreographed by Robin Calvert
Musical Direction by Steve Thomas
Performed by Jessica Gallant, Al Braatz, Kevin Aichele, Aadin Church, J. Sean Elliott, Graeme Goodhall, Kelly Holiff, Kayla James, Shelley Kenney, Anthony MacPherson, Gray Monczka, Oliver Neudorf, Luke Opdahl, Keith Savage, Amanda Struthmann, Brett Taylor, Brent Thiessen, Jennifer Thiessen, Margaret Thompson, Aaron Walpole, Christine Watson.
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
August 12 to September 2, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson